John Golden, alias Golding, hung for piracy – a court case that reverberates today re ‘Stateless Combatants’

Golding/Golden/Goulding Family History on Facebook

Discussions of politics and religion usually lead to little good.

So was the outcome of John Golden, alias Golding, who served King James II (a Catholic) as a privateer at the time that Prince William of Orange (a Protestant) took power in England via a civil war.

The forces of King James II retreated into Ireland, where he had overwhelming support, or they followed him into France. Once the war went badly in Ireland then many of his armed supporters were able to sail off to France after the loss at Limerick. (1) At the beginning of the war, King  James II had reestablished his court in France under the protection of the French King.

Note: This war goes by several names to include the Nine Years War. Machinations behind the scenes are worthy reading for any fan of Game of Thrones as the war is also known as the War of Three Kingdoms , with the alliance to overthrow James II made up of an international force known as The League of Augsburg, a group of rich bankers and financiers that bankrolled many things: the colonization of Brazil, the overthrow of James II, etc.

Not much is known of John Golden’s family, other than he was probably of Irish birth, but of probable English family.

Within English court records he is referred to as Golding … probably indicating that from the English legal perspective he derived from the English Golding family. The family is recorded as going to Ireland in 1314 as part of the Anglo-Norman invasion to consolidate hold over the isles. In the area around Dublin and Cork there was the English family of Nicholas Goldinges, of Castleknock, the king’s victualler in 1314.

A victualler is someone that supplies sailing ships with food, drink and organizes the stored provisions for ships to take aboard. (2) This was a role that Goldings were to repeat on a number of occasions over the centuries.

In 1598 Nicholas Goulding  was a quartermaster-sergeant in Cromwell’s army in Ireland, with his name appearing in a 1598 list of the chief gentlemen of counties Dublin and Kildare.

Both victuallers and quartermasters provide logistics support.

The Goldings were certainly Catholic and supporters of the crown at this time in Ireland with Sir Edmond Goldyng and his wife Elizabeth Fleming living in Ireland to the north of Dublin where lay Castleknock (3) — this was about two generations prior to when Privateer/Pirate John Golden sailed the region.

Regardless, we do not know what family of Goldens or Goldings that John Golden, alias Golding, came from.

What we do know is John Golden was caught and his legal case is still taught today as a major historical legal decision in the legal status of ‘stateless combatants’.

The trial of Golden/Golding and others is documented within A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason, Volume 12. The particular trial is “Trial of Thomas Jones and others as pirates, though acting under King James II. commission, 5 William and Mary, A. D. 1693“.

Short Version of the Trial

Winners get to write the rules. When the Privy Council of King William heard the case they charged Dr. Oldish, the King’s Advocate, to draw up the prosecution charges and to lay out the evidence. He refused, responding that those charged appear to have been acting under the legal authority of a legally recognized king. Dr. Oldish was dismissed as the King’s Advocate and replaced with Dr. Littleton, who tried the case and condemned those charged with high treason. The penalty was hanging.

More about the Trial

Those charged: John Golding, Thomas Jones. John Ryan, Darby Collins, Richard Shivers, Patrick Quidley, John Slaughter and Constantine de Hartley showed a commission signed J. R. (James II), dated at the Court of St. Germain, with articles of instruction, etc., in the same form as privateers have, giving caution and security to bring prizes into the Court of Admiralty.

Nature of the court: None of those charged were allowed legal counsel. They were tried by a tribunal (Lords of the Privy Council).

Appeal: Upon being condemned for high treason, those charged asked that the ruling be reconsidered and that they be treated as prisoners of war since it was clear that they represented the interests of a recognized king. While the government of King William of Orange no longer recognized James II there were other countries that did. Those condemned asked that they be retried by jury and provided legal counsel.

The Appeal in the condemned own words as expressed by Thomas Jones in his testimony:

“We accepted the King’s commission and acted under it, and for which we were condemned as traitors, and we never received any protection from King William, but served all along as subjects to King James II., etc., etc., and that after the surrender of Limerick we (and thousands more) were conveyed as enemies into France with our arms, brass guns and ammunition, and that being thus conveyed  to France continued to act under King James II. as our King, and he all along, while we were in Ireland and after, commissioned  us as his subjects, and that the ship and goods we took by virtue  of a commission as privateers, etc., etc., and that therefore we  ought to be treated as only enemies and prisoners of war, etc. Some of these men were executed, not all.”

The legal issue: Can militants, combatants, etc., that serve a recognized or formerly recognized government be denied protection of prisoner of war status because the winning side of either a battle or a war decide that such government no longer exists and therefore those charged serve no government at all?


1- By this defeat the Irish were obliged to sue for peace, and a treaty was signed by which the Romanists (Catholics) were restored to the enjoyment of those liberties in the exercise of their religion which they possessed under Charles II., and the soldiers and others were permitted to leave Ireland for any other country excepting England and Scotland. (Hume’s Eng., Vol. VII.). In consequence of this over ten thousand persons who fought under James II. went to France. This revolution of 1688 ended the Stuart power (the Catholic monarch) and transferred the crown of England from James II to William and Mary, (Green’s English People.)

—– This would seem to establish legitimacy of these fighters as representing a specific, recognized government. If you are reading this note before the rest of the story, this story and the hanging of John Golden et al is based upon him not receiving prisoner of war recognition and being executed for high treason as a pirate rather than being recognized as an authorized privateer.

—– The Mary that formed the duo of William and Mary was Queen Mary II (Protestant), daughter of King James II (Catholic). What seemed to have been a central cause of the war is that Mary’s father James II had a controversial religious policy: his attempt to grant freedom of religion to non-Anglicans. Parliament under the earlier Charles II (also Catholic) passed strict religious laws known as the Clarendon Code, which imposed very restrictive laws on non-Anglicans being able to hold positions of authority or to express dissent or to be able congregate in groups larger than five at a time. // In all fairness to the times, the Catholics had been absolutely brutish in their attempts to wipe out Protestantism in the country with public burnings at the stake for those that opposed their rule.

2 – The English Barony of Castleknock was originally a feudal lordship created in the 12th century for the Tyrell family; it passed by inheritance to the Burnell family. Hugh de Tyrell, 1st feudal Baron of Castleknock gave lands in the barony at Kilmainham to the Knights of St. John. Castleknock is known in Irish or Celt as Caisleán Cnucha. So it would appear that Nicolas Goldinges was the official victualler for the Barony of Castleknock.

3- Both were buried at Saint Peter’s Church of Ireland Church, Peter’s Hill, Drogheda, County Louth, where they have a very unique gravestone that shows the skeletal remains of their bodies.